|Zooming into the Past|
SOMALI WOMEN'S ROLE
Women protesters gather before attending a pro-Islamic courts union rally at Fagah in Somalia capital Mogadishu
Somali Women Instrumental in Islamist Takeover
June 18, 2006
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host: The United Nations is warning of more conflict in Somalia, where Islamist militias have recently taken control of the capital, Mogadishu. A U.N. official told the BBC today that the flow of arms into the country has risen sharply in violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
Meanwhile, the people of Mogadishu are adjusting to life under the Islamist militias. Craig Timberg of the Washington Post reports that Somali women, at least older women, are happy with the new order.
Mr. CRAIG TIMBERG (Washington Post): There's a bit of a generational shift here. Women who are mothers in particular seem to be very pleased that their daughters are safe from being raped and robbed, which was very common under the warlords who ran the city for 15 years.
Younger women are feeling a bit of pressure to cover their faces in their sort of Islamic way, and they're not as happy about the change.
ELLIOTT: Are there concerns that the Islamists will ultimately crack down on social freedoms beyond, say, just having to cover your face? We've read reports of movie theaters being closed down and World Cup broadcasts banned, for example.
Mr. TIMBERG: Yeah. You know, the thing that you need to understand is that this group that runs Mogadishu now is not monolithic. And there's absolutely been World Cup broadcasts that have been blocked and cinemas have been shut down. And I've interviewed a guy who was arrested and had his head shaved. So quite aggressive things have happened.
On the other hand, there are other parts of the city where there seems to be nothing like that happening and virtually no fear of crackdowns. So it's very hard to kind of bring it entirely into focus because it is so complex.
ELLIOTT: Now, from reading your article today, I get the sense that women actually played a role in helping the Islamist militias take over Mogadishu.
Mr. TIMBERG: Yeah, I was very surprised by this. You know, as a Westerner you come in and you sort of assume that the women are not listened to very much in an Islamic country. And I think that that's maybe a bit unfair. What was happening in Somalia is that the women were listened to.
After the government fell apart in 1991, the formal economy collapsed. The men who had formal jobs lost their jobs. So the women became the breadwinners by selling clothes and fruit and such, you know, gasoline on the streets. And so in the last few years, they've been able to really force their way into the room when the major decisions were being made.
And in addition to that, radio call-in shows have become very popular in Mogadishu. There's no government to stop anything from happening. So the women would get on the phone, they'd call and they would complain about the warlords. They'd complain that their daughters had been raped and that the shells had knocked down their homes and they were, in many ways, really the dominant part of this conversation over the past few months as the warlords were chased away.
ELLIOTT: So they welcome the Islamist militias who would come in and help establish at least safety for their daughters.
Mr. TIMBERG: Yeah, exactly. Again, there is real anxiety there that this Islamist shift could go too far, and I think that there's reasons - there's legitimate reasons to be concerned about that. But you're in a country that's had no police force, no army, no laws, no prosecution, no judges for 15 years. The thought that someone is going to bring guys with guns under control is deeply appealing. The fact that women can now walk down the streets or they can send their girls to the market without fear that they're going to be snatched off the streets is a very powerful thing.
ELLIOTT: Craig Timberg of the Washington Post. Thank you very much.
Mr. TIMBERG: It's my pleasure.
© 2004 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved.
Somali women feel safer without warlords but now face Islamic law
Craig Timberg in Mogadishu
22 June 2006
Somalia: Sometimes, the women here said, it began with a knock on the door after dark or with a kidnapping in broad daylight. And sometimes, the gunmen who ruled this city would use a long, sharp knife to slice open the tin shacks of poor families and snatch their daughters away.
The girls would return - if they returned - in the morning, sobbing and marked permanently as cast-offs in a traditional Islamic society that demands virginity at marriage.
An epidemic of sexual violence during 15 years of lawlessness in Somalia was among the factors that strengthened opposition to this city's notorious warlords, residents said. The Islamic militias that drove them out in months of recent fighting were embraced as keepers of public order, as a force strong enough, and pious enough, to keep Mogadishu's daughters safe.
That helped the militias win the support of Mogadishu's increasingly influential women who, in recent years, had joined the job market en masse to support their families in the midst of a collapsing economy.
"Women were doing what men used to do here," said Shariff Osman (45), dean of the faculty at Mogadishu University. "They were paying the bills."
When fighting broke out in January, the airwaves suddenly were full of angry denunciations of the secular warlords and support for the Islamic militias fighting them. Most of the callers were women, said Somalis who monitored the political upheaval as it played out on radio talk-shows.
And though it was guns and not words that chased away the warlords, the intensity of the public revulsion for them provided crucial support for the Islamic militias as they advanced through this oceanside capital.
"Somalia was saved because of the Somali women," said Khadija O Ali (47), founder of a women's group here and a graduate student in conflict resolution at George Mason University.
In absence of a central government - the last one fell to the warlords in 1991 - city leaders chose to deal with these problems by establishing traditional Islamic courts, with one overseeing the members of each of the city's dozen or so leading families.
The courts relied on Islamic law, which calls for thieves' hands to be amputated, murderers to be publicly executed and rapists to either die or face public lashings.
Few dispute there has been a dramatic decline in crime in Mogadishu since the fall of the warlords on June 5th, though without a police force, there are no crime statistics.
But not all women say their stature has grown as the country moves toward Islamic law.
Ubah Mohamed (34), a widow with seven children, was among the women who joined Mogadishu's workforce. But she said the beauty shop she opened a decade ago has been losing regular customers, falling from more than 300 to about 100, as radical Islamic values appear to be gaining wider acceptance.
"The militias patrol our areas looking to see if girls are going out with boys," she said.
"So the girls don't come to beauty salons like ours."
In a city where residents report that public viewing of the World Cup has been curbed, she predicted beauty shops, including hers, would be closed.
Anab Isaaq, a widow with five children, has mixed feelings about the changes in Somalia. She would rather have remained home with her children, as her mother did, she said, but was forced to sell clothes from door to door.
Her two daughters - Nasteexo (10) and Hamsa (7) - also spent most of their time at home because Isaaq forbade them to walk alone outside.
She grimly recalled seeing the body of a girl of about four, the relative of a neighbour, who had been raped and killed. But now Isaaq revels in watching her daughters leave the house, hand in hand and without her.
For the first time since she had them, Isaaq said, she worries not at all.
© 2006, The Irish Times.
A woman holds the Holy Koran during an Islamic Courts supporters' rally at Tribunka Square in Mogadishu
Somali Girl Hides Her Face During A Peace Rally In the Town of Jowhar
Protestors hold holy Koran during an anti IGAD rally in Mogadishu
Protesters hold up banners with slogans against democracy during a rally in Mogadishu
Veiled Somali Girls Playing ["xalaal"] Soccer